Prof. Gary Chapman has presented us with some good insight into the
white supremacist "digital divide". Among the SFtP Folk here, there
should be organized interdepartmental seminars and/or teach-ins on our
various campuses about this growing crisis in access to technology and
information and real jobs.
However, near the end of his very informative essay Prof Chapman says:
"But the real solution to income inequality in the U.S.
cannot be the
happy-face prescription that we should all become
computer nerds. Even
Silicon Valley tycoons need people to wash their
clothes, fix their cars,
run cash registers and take care of and educate their
people need a living wage too. "
"Those people" need a socialist revolution to help equally distribute
the tremendous wealth that exist on this planet today! The implication
of Prof. Chapman's statement is that since there will always be
capitalism with a mainly colored servile sector of the workingclass,
give them a "living" wage as dictated by this capitalist political
economy which is defined by all kinds of built-in inequality. One of
our goals as progressives/radicals/revolutionaries is to layout a vision
of a world where we are not defined and confined by bourgeois strucures
and worldviews that place profits and the individual before people.
S. E. Anderson
Los Angeles Times
Monday, July 19, 1999
Inequality Runs Deeper Than Skills Gap
By Gary Chapman <[log in to unmask]>
The "digital divide" has been back in the news recently -- but, as
On July 8, the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and
Information Administration released its latest report in a series called
"Falling Through the Net." This is an ongoing study of telephone,
and Internet use in the U.S. that can be viewed at
In it, the government reported (using 1998 data) that 40% of U.S. homes
have personal computers. However, the report noted, "between 1997 and
1998, the divide between those at the highest and the lowest education
levels increased 25% and the divide between the highest and the lowest
income levels grew 29%. Households with incomes of $75,000 or higher are
more than 20 times as likely to have access to the Internet than those
the lowest income levels and more than nine times as likely to have a
computer at home."
In other words, the disparities in access to computers and the Internet
The next day, President Clinton visited Watts, where he referred to the
NTIA report and toured a federally funded technology laboratory at Locke
High School. He also discussed how a new coalition of technology
companies, including Lucent Technologies, America Online and AT&T, will
help fund technology academies in economically distressed communities.
On July 12, the United Nations Development Programme released its 1999
"Human Development Report" (http://www.undp.org/hdro/99.htm), which
among its many statistics, that the U.S. has more computers than the
of the world combined. The U.N. also found that more than 80% of Web
are in English, and less than 1% of the world's population reads this
language. It was also reported that "the income gap between the richest
fifth of the world's people and the poorest fifth, measured by average
national income per head, increased from 30 to one in 1960 to 74 to one
The U.N. authors said that the price of a personal computer amounts to
about a month's salary in the U.S., but eight years' salary for the
average person in Bangladesh.
The U.N. also reported that the combined fortunes of the world's 200
wealthiest people more than doubled between 1994 and 1998, to about $1
trillion. Other U.N. reports have claimed that 4% of this figure, spent
annually, would provide the entire world's population with adequate
housing, food, health care, clean water and sewage systems.
The most common response to these grim statistics -- the response of
our political parties and the majority of public opinion -- is that
education and the development of skills, particularly computer skills,
the only answers to rising income inequality. But that may be a
That's the argument my colleague at the University of Texas, professor
James K. Galbraith, made in his 1998 book, "Created Unequal." In the
Galbraith wrote that we don't have a shortage of skills. What we do
according to the subtitle of his book, is a "crisis in American pay."
Galbraith observes that among economists, the near-universal explanation
for increased inequality in the U.S. is the "skill premium," or the
of skill in an increasingly high-tech economy. University of Michigan
economist George Johnson says, for example, that the economic literature
shows "virtual unanimous agreement that during the 1980s, relative
increased for workers at the high end of the skill distribution and thus
caused their relative wages to rise."
Workers with low skills or short educations suffered as a result. Ergo,
the argument goes, increasing education and skill development among the
disadvantaged will improve their wage-earning prospects and thereby
Challenging this assumption is economic and political heresy in the U.S.
Galbraith writes, however, that "the skills-shortage hypothesis -- the
idea that computers or other forms of skill-enhancing technology are
mainly responsible for what has happened to the wage structure -- and
idea that education can cure the problem are, I believe, fantasies."
Galbraith calls these fantasies "comforting" because they lay the blame
workers themselves and "exonerate the state." No one is against
or acquiring new skills. But these do little, Galbraith says, to change
the growing stratification of society.
An exclusive focus on education and training, such as we have in U.S.
public policy, avoids the taboo of challenging the justice of the wage
structure itself. The simple fact is that most Americans are not paid
enough. In the U.S., education is a process that sorts people on the
inequality continuum, what Galbraith calls a "lottery ticket" that
questioning the odds of the lottery itself.
Galbraith offers a lengthy discussion about why the computer is not to
blame for income inequality. Inequality expanded a decade before the
widespread use of personal computers, he notes. Most workers in the U.S.
already have basic computer skills, but the majority have still seen
wages sink, relative to other groups and adjusted for inflation. If
were tied to technology-based productivity gains, blue-collar workers
should have seen the greatest relative increases in wage income, because
manufacturing has enjoyed the most significant growth in productivity.
blue-collar wages have declined for 25 years.
The real blame, Galbraith argues, belongs to political policies that
favored the rich, especially those with interest income. These began in
the Nixon administration, were accelerated by Presidents Carter and
and have been sustained in the Clinton administration.
Galbraith points the finger at the Federal Reserve, in particular, for
keeping real interest rates high to appease wealthy creditors and at the
business and financial class for pushing policies -- successfully --
have essentially annihilated the social contract of the New Deal. This
all obscured by our current fetish for education and training, a form of
the growing public sentiment that it's "every man for himself" in what
conservative writer Edward Luttwak calls, pejoratively, the era of
All of this puts advocates of greater equality in a tough spot. Poor
communities like Watts and other inner-city poverty zones definitely
computers and Internet training. It takes enormous energy both to
the public that such investments are worthwhile and in the public
and to sustain such efforts. This is the only "solution" on the
agenda these days, and it can change individual lives, offering an exit
from poverty and ghettos.
But the real solution to income inequality in the U.S. cannot be the
happy-face prescription that we should all become computer nerds. Even
Silicon Valley tycoons need people to wash their clothes, fix their
run cash registers and take care of and educate their children. Those
people need a living wage too.
Inequality is the root of nearly all of our problems in the U.S.:
money politics, social polarization and class segregation, family
breakdowns, crime, fin-de-siecle decadence and a stifling and depressing
feeling that we've lost our way as a nation. Computer skills, although
very important for everyone, are not the answer. It will take moral
courage to "speak truth to power" to really change things.
Gary Chapman is director of the 21st Century Project at the University
Texas at Austin. He can be reached at [log in to unmask]
Copyright (c) 1999 Los Angeles Times. All rights reserved.